Timeline of the Maryland HBCU Equality Lawsuit

by: Deborah Bailey Special to the AFRO
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The remedial phase of the Maryland HBCU equity lawsuit being heard in federal district court is coming to end.  Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, originally filed in 2006 by a community-based group composed of alumni from Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities (the “Coalition”) – Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – was determined by the U.S Federal District Court that the state of Maryland continues to operate a de jure system of segregation in higher education that has disadvantaged HBCU students.

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The timeline below provides a condensed overview of the 10-plus years of legal action and civic activity connected with the HBCU equity lawsuit:

1974-1982 – The Backstory – What Led to the HBCU Equity Lawsuit Being Filed?

In 1974, the state of Maryland devised a plan to achieve Black-White equity in higher education. Two years later, the U.S. Department of Education‘s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) informed the State of Maryland that the plan was not being appropriately implemented and threatened to block Maryland’s share of federal funds to achieve enforcement.  

The State filed a lawsuit against OCR preventing them from withholding federal funds. Negotiations between the State and OCR continued and in 1980, the state submitted a second desegregation plan.  OCR found this plan insufficient as well.

In 1985, after continued negotiations, Maryland and OCR agreed on a third desegregation plan. The Coalition asserts that the 1985 agreement has never been sufficiently enacted, leaving the state’s HBCUs underfunded, while the state uses its policy-making capability to advance predominantly White institutions (PWIs.)

2000 Partnership Agreement:  Maryland signs a partnership agreement with the OCR (federal government) agreeing to make its four Historically Black Institutions comparable and competitive to the Traditionally White Institutions in all respects; to avoid unnecessary program duplication between Historically Black Institutions and Traditionally White universities; and to conduct a study of the status and special needs of Coppin University. 

 

2006 – HBCU Equity Lawsuit Filed

The Coalition files the Equity Lawsuit. The case was originally filed in a Maryland state court before it was re-filed in the Federal District Court.   The HBCU equity lawsuit asserts that the State of Maryland violated HBCU students’ rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment – i.e. Maryland continues to operate a system of higher education that discriminates against HBCU students.

 

2012 – HBCU Equity Lawsuit Liability Trial

Liability trial held January to February in the U.S. District Court of Maryland. Judge Catherine E. Blake presiding.  

 

2013 – Court Rules in Favor of Coalition for Equity and Excellence

Judge Catherine E. Blake rules in favor of the HBCU plaintiffs, determining that Maryland continues to operate a de jure system of discrimination against HBCUs.

“Students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or of other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions,” she wrote in her opinion.

 

2013-2015 – Mediation Ordered by The Court

Judge Blake orders the parties – HBCU plaintiffs and State of Maryland to develop a remedy for the discriminatory pattern of academic program duplication that put HBCUs at a disadvantage.  Plaintiffs submit remedial plan.  State of Maryland fails to submit a comprehensive plan to address program duplication.

 

2016 – Mediation Fails – Blake Sets Court Date for Remedial Trial

In December 2016 Judge Catherine E. Blake orders the Coalition and State to return to court for trial in 2017 after mediation fails.

 

2017 – HBCU Equity Remedial Trial

Witnesses for the remedial portion of the HBCU Lawsuit conclude testimony in February 2017.  The court will set a post-trial briefing schedule of 90 days after which the Court will reconvene parties for closing arguments in the courtroom. (May-early June 2017)   

 

Legislative action linked to HBCU Equity Trial – March 2017

The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus introduces SB 712 which guarantees equity in funding for Maryland’s HBCUs. Hearing scheduled in Annapolis, March 7.  HBCU Night in Annapolis scheduled March 21.

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